Session Notes: Invisible Labor of Digital History Collaboration & I vs. We in DH

  • “Gnomes and elves problem” – invisible labor in special collections and other fields
  • What is invisible labor?
    • Thread on Twitter a few weeks ago stating person found this hidden gem; no, a librarian found it, catalogued it, shouted it out, you didn’t discover it
    • Invisibility – things difficult to assess (like course surveys); direct vs. indirect measures, skills that don’t manifest until later on, hard to measure and communicate
      • Big issue for funding – erasure of labor has financial implications
    • Technology may have exasperated this issue of erasing labor
      • Physical card catalog bank vs. online – mass quantity better indicates labor behind it
    • Librarian older model seen as support for researchers, not co-researchers
    • DH asking for more and different support – role as librarian changing based on tasks of researchers, which plays into idea of visibility
      • Visibility obvious as providing a service, but less so in other ways
    • Be more conscious about delivering products and benefits to get away from being seen as a call center
      • Ex. Mukurtu Project – active collaboration with indigenous peoples; normally invisible labor but support highlighted because of direct engagement with this community
      • Linked the product with the process
      • Engage with invisible voices that want to interpret themselves
    • Public transcription can help as well
      • Ex. transcription center at Smithsonian
    • Use the word “product” – makes things visible, but also still invisible
      • Everything in libraries being “projectized”
      • Hard to make something like knowledge a commodity
      • Creating end products like transcribed Diller jokes, which is important to show what labor is doing, but then worried that we are going to be judged off of that
        • Turns things into assets, money-makers (look what we can do in 5 months, how much $ we can make from it)
        • McDonalds vs. working with a chef
      • Product view also erases maintenance issue
    • Library as servant
      • I’m going to go to library and librarians going to find what I want vs. librarians teaching me to find something I need
      • View librarians as partners
    • Don’t necessarily want to be more of a partner by making invisible labor visible
      • Show the demands, need for funding, etc.
      • DH is helping uncover hidden labor
    • Flexibility and prioritization
      • If we have different levels of say, describing millions of collection objects
      • Triage and categorize objects as demonstration of value
      • And different levels of support
      • Counter: some don’t want to value different things differently
      • Doesn’t mean priorities won’t change, just see immediate demand in current environment
    • Important to define our goals – is it # of papers scanned into internet, or more indirect measures that may take longer to manifest down the road
      • Quantitative AND qualitative – qualitative harder to put in grant report, for example
      • Subjective harder to quantify
    • Need a big, broad picture narrative
    • Librarians as experts vs. community collaboration/ownership
      • Use librarians as starting point to get academic project off the ground – like a guide for best practices and best tools
      • Write them into your budgets
    • MFA becoming the new MBA – we are critical
    • Transcribing – undergraduate students present learned how much effort it takes
    • Crowdfunding – often seen as solution to all labor issues (unpaid labor)
      • But also sense of community and getting people involved
    • Want to bring digital documents into physical space – show and tell model
      • See what digital looks like in person – seeing that would give one a different awareness
Categories: Libraries, Session Notes |
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About Eden Slone

I am a first year graduate student in the George Washington University Museum Studies Program, with an emphasis in exhibitions and public engagement. I am currently very interested in exhibition development, learning how to improve the museum visitor experience, and making museums as accessible as possible to the public. I came to Washington, D.C. by way of the California Central Coast, where I received a B.A. in History from UC Santa Barbara and worked at the university for two years post-graduation.